Russian S7 group, which owns PJSC Siberia Airlines, acquired major stock of the Sea Launch, Company which is operating sea launch platform and uses Zenit rockets to put payload on Low Earth Orbit.
According to official announcements given during 27th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara on September 27, 2016, Sea Launch finally had new investor – Russian group S7, which is owner of PJSC Siberia Airlines (known since 2006 as S7 Airlines), member of Oneworld Alliance. Plans were officially announced by one of the co-owners and CEO of S7, Vladislav Filev:
“The goal is to announce today the deal between the two parties on acquiring the assets of the project, which was built by four countries. I am very proud of the fact that I will sign this contract today on behalf of S7 Group. We are buying the Odyssey platform,”
Agreement should be finished in following months and according to joint statement of Roscosmos and S7, it should be accepted by Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) before end of the 2016. In this way S7 became owner of trademark, ground segment and infrastructure, ships and platform and will enter the commercial market.
S7 Company was established during period of privatization of number of State Corporations and Companies in Russia in early nineties- PJSC Siberia Airlines were established basing on privatized in 1994 Siberia Airlines. Company was focused mainly on offering its services in the far east of Russia and China with airports place in following cities: Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok and Beijing. Just as it was announced by TASS news agency in the end of August, choice of new owner made by Roscosmos and Energia (previous owners of Sea Launch) is surprising: company is in fact (what was probably one of the factor determining choice) Russian based, but it was not previously operating in space industry. But this should not be a problem – S7 is going to move headquarters of Sea Launch from Bern in Switzerland to Moscow and understands that it is necessary to invest in Sea Launch to resume launches in 2018. As Vladislav Filev said:
“We have a great deal of various contracts in five jurisdictions, in various currencies. In all, to a sum of about $160 million,”
The selected date gives reason to assume, that Company is still considering using Zenit rockets as primary solution for returning to commercial market. But here lies one of the fundamental problems of Sea Launch. Ukrainian Company Yuzhnoe Design Office, which was one of the founders of Sea Launch and was providing Zenit rockets, is now in serious financial troubles due the cancelling multiple contracts with Roscosmos and it is hard to predict is it will be able to resume production of Zenit rockets without additional financial support. In such case S7 Space Transport Systems (newly established subsidiary of S7 for managing Sea Launch) CEO Sergey Sopov claims, that Company is ready to wait even five years for new launch vehicle. This statement is similar to declaration announced previously by Energia and Roscosmos, which were considering modernization of platform and leaving Long Beach port to move platform and ships back to Russia. But creating launch vehicle, as Sergey Sopov claims, better and more advanced that Zenit will cost money, what probably will make a problem – Sea Launch needs annually $30 million for service and after five years it will double sum for investments declared by Vladislav Filev. Also it is worth to remind, that five years it is long time considering presence pace of development in space industry. It is just hard to predict if in 2021 there will be no better solution for putting payload to LEO than Sea Launch. At the moment Sergey Sopov states, that if Yuzhnoe will be able to provide Zenit, it is possible to conduct up to 12 launches from Sea Launch platform if full operational capability will be resumed in 2017. He also mentioned that platform was design for 90 launches during 15 years and it is still in good condition to serve without any large scale service actions.